Face the music
For Sony Music’s Jennifer Fowler and Billboard’s Jason Lipshutz, college was the opener for what would be their life’s work.
Long before she became senior vice-president of marketing and commercial partnerships at Sony Music, Jennifer Fowler ’96, who had majored in communications, called WTSR home. Billboard’s executive director, music, Jason Lipshutz ’10, always knew he wanted to write and found himself drawn to music in college, binging on concerts in Philadelphia and New York City.
Given their mash-up of professional expertise — Fowler cultivates business partnerships that drive artist development and discovery, and Lipshutz gets one-on-one time with the likes of Taylor Swift and Spotify’s CEO, Daniel Ek — we asked them to share insight on the perennial yet shifting connection between college students and the music industry.
To kick this off, we shared with Fowler and Lipshutz a list of musicians whose shows brought them to campus from the 1960s through now.
“It’s a pretty cool list with impressive performers like Kool & The Gang and Springsteen, who were then just potential superstars early in their careers,” says Lipshutz.
We wondered about Bob Dylan, a 23-year-old who already had three studio albums under his belt in 1964 when he performed here, but who wouldn’t rent his first electric guitar until six months after playing on campus. “He was just like any rising artist who has a couple hit songs and is trying to reach an audience of college kids in a meaningful way,” says Lipshutz. “Back then, he wasn’t Bob Dylan, the legend. He was just a singer-songwriter trying to connect with people. The value of college tours to artists from any time period is that you’re playing to the exact demographic — young fans — that you want to reach.”
Fowler traced a line from then to now. “Because college students can be highly influential tastemakers and gatekeepers,” she says, “college touring remains an important part of how artists build fanbases.”
What did Megan Thee Stallion, who performed here in 2019 at age 24, have starting out that Dylan didn’t? That secret sauce — the intersection of social media and streaming — which can catapult performers to an exponential number of followers and great fame under the right conditions.
“College students can directly interact with Megan Thee Stallion in a way that Bob Dylan listeners 60 years ago simply could not,” says Lipshutz. “It’s a fun cultural wrinkle within the history of these performances.”
Jennifer Fowler on …
Why college students are important to the work she does
Gen Z and college age consumers are a core demographic for the majority of our artists. And a key part of how we develop artists. Gen Zs are consuming more content than ever so understanding how their behaviors are evolving and changing on social and streaming platforms is critical.
What drives a record label
Artists and creators will always drive our business. The label’s role is to bring partners to the table to help us develop and expose our content, build expertise and tools to optimize revenue, and innovate and drive investment in areas that will create value for artists and creators.
Her deep dive into indie music during college
I saw and helped plan concerts for lots of small, beloved, independent artists for WTSR’s Radiothon. We prided ourselves on serving the hardcore indie music crowd on campus — as you can imagine, we were somewhat jaded college students constantly pursuing that culture. Those experiences always reinforced my passion for music.
Why not everything she played at WTSR was indie
I also had a 7” singles show. I once subbed in for a community volunteer who did an incredible Motown show. It’s one of my favorite WTSR memories. I grew up listening to ’50s and ’60s music with my father. I’ve kept that passion with me my whole life. Sam Cooke, Elvis, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes. I love them all.
How her time at the station paid off
I was the music director my junior and senior year, where I gained a lot of valuable experience on both the business and creative side of noncommercial, not-for-profit radio, and built up an extensive network of industry professionals. Senior year, I landed an incredible internship in New York City at one of the industry’s largest independent radio promotion companies. When I finished, they offered me a full-time position — this was a month before I graduated. It was a dream scenario.
What else spurred her to accept the position
I don’t think my parents would have let me back in the house, so I had to find something that actually paid me.
The all-important career flip
When I entered the business, I very quickly pivoted to digital because I saw that there was a lot happening around music and technology. That’s where I locked in, and that’s been my trajectory. I knew that radio wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
The bigger artists she caught at TCNJ
Edie Brickell in 1990 and Violent Femmes in 1992.
How streaming numbers get converted to sales data for gold, platinum, and diamond certifications
The industry follows a fixed set of ratios and formulas to convert streams and downloads to track album equivalents. The certifications are based on all consumption activity (physical purchases, streaming, downloads). Streaming is typically the biggest contributor to overall consumption. Physical sales — vinyl in particular — can also have a big impact on performance.
Why music genres are melting away
For millennials, hip-hop and pop have always been top genres. Gen Z behavior feels much more genre fluid, driven by discovery, finding the next new trend. It’s far less important that an artist or track fit into specific genre labels. The boom in Latin music on the charts is another example of how Gen Z continues to break down both genre and language barriers to drive their discovery process.
How her 9-year-old daughter finds music
She is music obsessed. It’s a wonder to see how she can navigate the streaming services to find things she likes. She follows her favorite artists and constantly checks big marquee playlists on the music-streaming services. We’ve also introduced vinyl into her life, but she views it much more as a collectible than as a means of consumption. This follows all the trends we currently see with Gen Z and Gen Alphas (kids under 13).
Jason Lipshutz on …
The two megastars who were booked at TCNJ as openers
Billy Joel , who had Piano Man under his belt and a more established presence, was headlining a year after performing here. Springsteen  would take longer to break through.
Other artists who performed early in their careers
Bonnie Raitt, who started in the early ’70s, also had a little bit more runway when she played TCNJ in 1975. It’s pretty cool that she played with Buddy Guy on campus. It’s awesome. Nearly five decades later, her 2022 album Just Like That hit #44 on our chart, but it got some love when its title track won Song of the Year at the 2023 Grammys, a big surprise. It was one of the few Song of the Year winners that was not a chart hit.
I also knew about Megan Thee Stallion as an up-and-coming rapper in 2019, the year she performed on campus. In 2020, she went from hip-hop star to national, A-list star. She collaborated on the single “WAP” with Cardi B, already a star, and it debuted at #1 on the Hot 100. It was an enormous hit out of the gate.
Groups that came to TCNJ later in their trajectories
Cheap Trick’s biggest hits were in the late ’70s — “Surrender” and “I Want You to Want Me” — so performing in 1985 was after their heyday. But their songs are timeless: catchy punk songs that college kids can wrap their arms around. Violent Femmes had the same kind of deal with a lot of very college-friendly ’80s hits.
Ludacris had scored #1 hit singles and sold millions of albums, so he was very much an established hip-hop star. He had debuted a decade earlier, so 19- or 20-year-olds at TCNJ were only 9 or 10 when he first came out, and he wanted to rope them in as fans as well.
I was not aware that B.B. King performed on campus in 2005, a year before I got there. That’s just an outlier in the sense of a legend decades into their career stopping by and performing at TCNJ. It’s pretty great.
The bigger artists he caught at TCNJ
Lupe Fiasco/Ludacris in 2009 and All Time Low in 2010.
Why Megan Thee Stallion released the “Savage” remix with Beyoncé less than two months after releasing her solo version of “Savage” in 2020
It’s just artists being open to what fans are interested in and seeing artistic opportunity — they want to make sure that fans are getting as much of their songs and albums as they want. It’s not like, “Hey, here’s my new song and I’ll be back with another song in a couple of months.” It’s “I’m going to show you a behind the scenes video. I’m going to have a remix. I’m going to have a slowed down version.” It’s just making sure modern fans with shortened attention spans are aware of everything going on.
How Billboard automatically factors streaming numbers into its charts
The good thing about the charts for the last decade is that they take streaming numbers into account and how music is being consumed. Every year, our charts team recalibrates our chart formula. So in 2012, if 10% of people were using streaming as their primary source of music — I’m just making up a number — then that factored in 10% of the Hot 100 singles chart. Now that streaming is much more prevalent, it’s a much bigger part of the formula.
… and for album sales in particular
Our primary album chart, Hot 200, tallies the biggest albums of a given week. Because there are so few albums actually being sold now, that chart looks at equivalent album unit sales. If someone listens to an album straight through enough times on Spotify, it’ll earn what we call an equivalent album unit. We still count physical album sales into that chart, but it’s a mix.
What contributes to music genres becoming more permeable
It’s mostly because of streaming and everyone having access to any type of music. If you wanted to listen to country music in a real way 20 years ago, you’d have to buy a country album or make a commitment to listen to country radio or watch videos on Country Music Television. Now, if you want to check out one country song, you can just go to Spotify and listen to it.
His guess as to why Bon Jovi never performed at TCNJ
We got the one New Jersey legend with Springsteen, at least. I’m not sure about Bon Jovi. Maybe the timing just didn’t work out.
We’ve compiled all the acts who’ve rocked at The College of New Jersey. Most, like hall of famer Dionne Warwick and iconic emo band Paramore came by way of the College Union Board, the student-run org that books big, annual campus concerts. Others, like little-known Tom Waits in 1976, found their own way to spaces like the Rathskeller or Rhodora Theater.
1961 Miriam Makeba and Chad Mitchell Trio 1962 Joey Dee and the Starliters 1963 Jay and the Americans 1964 Carlos Montoya • Bob Dylan 1965 The Isley Brothers • Judy Collins 1966 Stan Getz 1967 Buffy Sainte-Marie • The New Christy Minstrels 1968 The Lettermen 1969 The Talbot Brothers of Bermuda • Mason Williams 1970 Dionne Warwick • Constellations • Mungo Jerry • Alexander Rabbit • Steppenwolf • Travis Justis 1971 Seals & Crofts • The Byrds • J.F. Murphy and The Free Flowing Salt • Roger McGuinn • The Grass Roots • The Illusion • Stark Naked • Dave Van Ronk 1972 Buzzy Lindhart • John Lee Hooker • Dave Mason • We The People • Sea Train • Sha Na Na • The Mark-Almond Band • McKendree Spring • Tim Hardin 1973 Divided We Stand • Mount Airy • Josh White • John Prine • Climax Blues Band • Strawbs • Duke Ellington • Kool & the Gang• Blue Magic • Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express • Bruce Springsteen • The Coasters • The Dovells • The Drifters • The Five Satins • The Shirelles • Electric Light Orchestra 1974 Billy Joel • Roger McGuinn • Dave Bromberg • The Escorts • Gil Scott-Heron • Renaissance • Janis Ian • Harry Chapin 1975 Melissa Manchester • Labelle • Bonnie Raitt, Junior Wells, and Buddy Guy • New Raiders of the Purple Sage • Blood, Sweat & Tears • Stanky Brown Group • Harry Chapin 1976 Peter Frampton • The Charlie Daniels Band • Arlo Guthrie • Tom Waits 1977 George Benson • The Kinks 1978 Dean Friedman • Ramsey Lewis • Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes 1979 The J. Geils Band • Al Jarreau • Angela Bofill • McGuinn Clark & Hillman • The Cooper Brothers • The Good Rats 1980 Holme • Steve Forbert 1981 Orleans • Aztec Two-Step 1982 Maynard Ferguson • The Roches • Ramones • Blue Angel featuring Cyndi Lauper • Regressive Aid 1983 Arlo Guthrie • David Bromberg Band • Johnny Winter • Robert Hazard 1984 Spyro Gyra 1985 Phil Woods Quintet • The Bongos • The Waitresses • The Hooters • The Romantics • Cheap Trick • John Waite 1988 Living Colour • Fishbone 1989 Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers • Glen Burtnik • Bad English 1990 Jay Williams • Intense • Edie Brickell & New Bohemians 1992 Violent Femmes • The Smithereens • Mr. Reality • Luka Bloom 1993 Jeffrey Gaines • Gregg Swann 1994 George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars • Live • Jason & Alison 1995 Graham Parker & The Episodes • Archers of Loaf • Superdrag • KRS-One 1997 They Might Be Giants • 112 • Fiona Apple • Hooverphonic 1998 T.S. Monk • Moby Grape 1999 Busta Rhymes • Wyclef Jean 2000 The Mighty Mighty Bosstones 2001 Tonic • Nine Days 2002 Duncan Sheik • Sugar Ray • Nappy Roots 2003 Lisa Loeb • Vanilla Ice • Ben Folds • Tegan and Sara 2004 Art Alexakis of Everclear • Blessid Union of Souls • Amos Lee 2005 B.B. King • Gavin Degraw 2006 Motion City Soundtrack • Hellogoodbye 2007 Copeland • The Academy Is… 2008 Vanessa Carlton • Third Eye Blind 2009 Lupe Fiasco • Ludacris 2010 All Time Low • Plain White T’s • Mutemath 2011 Jack’s Mannequin • Secondhand Serenade 2012 Wiz Khalifa • Jay Sean • Twenty One Pilots 2013 Mac Miller • Big Sean • Grouplove 2014 Twenty One Pilots • Panic! At the Disco • Karmin • Hoodie Allen • The Front Bottoms • New Politics • We the Kings 2015 Paramore • Bleachers • Modern Baseball 2016 Jason Derulo • Sammy Adams 2017 The Maine • Ke$ha and The Creepies • Lil Yachty • Lil Jon 2018 21 Savage • Desiigner • Steve Aoki 2019 PnB Rock • AJR • Megan Thee Stallion • Joey Bada$$ 2022 Surfaces • Yung Gravy
Who did you see play? Who did we miss? Send your musical notes to firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration: Agata Nowicka
Posted on June 12, 2023